In the wake of the Pegasus exposé, an EGI representative stated its implications on constitutional democracy but said that the association was still deliberating future steps.
The Editors Guild of India (EGI) expressed shock in its press statement condemning the widespread snooping aided by the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware while demanding an independent enquiry to be monitored by the Supreme Court of India.
EGI’s statement was made in response to a flurry of news reports alleging that the software developed by the Israeli company was used to surveil journalists, activists, businessmen, scientists, and politicians. The investigation was led by Forbidden Stories along with a consortium of 17 media organisations with forensic analysis of infected phones undertaken by Amnesty International.
You can read the Pegasus Project reports here:
The Guild based its opinion on emerging media reports and said that the alleged surveillance was ordered by government agencies in all likelihood as the NSO Group claims that it sells the software only to “vetted governments”.
A threat to constitutional democracy: EGI
The Guild also conveyed its dismay over claims that Indian journalists and activists were surveilled using Pegasus, despite the NSO Group’s CEO Shalev Hulio explicitly stating that “journalists, human rights activists, and civil organizations are all off-limits,” in a Washington Post interview.
“While some of the instances of surveillance might have been targeted against those who may be seen as credible national security threats, what is disturbing is that a large number of such targets were journalists and civil society activists. This is a brazen and unconstitutional attack on freedom of speech and press. This act of snooping essentially conveys that journalism and political dissent are now equated with ‘terror’. How can a constitutional democracy survive if governments do not make an effort to protect freedom of speech, and allow surveillance with such impunity?” read the Editors Guild of India statement.
When Medianama reached out to EGI Treasurer Anant Nath, he explained that if the allegations are true then it is a grave threat to constitutional democracy. “If the conversations of journalists and political activists are tapped, you are instilling fear. You are disincentivizing a free exchange of ideas. This has to be fought through and investigated. People need to know the intention and extent of it.”
Sushant Singh was one of the 8 journalists whose phone was confirmed by a forensic analysis to be infected with Pegasus between March 2021 to July 2021. Singh concurs with the Guild in his oped for Foreign Policy, writing that “the list denotes that the Indian democratic framework is no longer free and fair. This is no less than India’s Watergate moment.”
Nath, however, steered clear of drawing parallels between the two events contending that Pegasus has been mentioned before in the media whereas Watergate was a revelation. “The dangerous part is not that snooping is being done but that it is being normalized and accepted, and the kind of precedent it will set in the future.”
EGI’s demand for an independent committee
When asked whether the Guild will look to bring a lawsuit against the government along with affected journalists like what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is planning, Nath said that they were currently deliberating over what can be done further.
In addition to an independent enquiry, the Guild has asked for the inclusion of people with “impeccable credibility” so that the committee can “investigate the facts around the extent and intent of snooping using Pegasus”.
While elaborating on steps needed to prevent snooping in the future, Nath explained that fact-finding is the first step towards addressing the issue as one needs to figure out the extent of this snooping and that is only possible through a commission that is independent of the government. “Depending upon the findings, we can figure out what can be the safeguards which can be implemented to prevent further snooping. It is too early to comment upon the nature of safeguards right now,” he added.
This is not the first time Pegasus has been in the news after it was revealed that the spyware was used to snoop on 121 Indians through a WhatsApp exploit in 2019. WhatsApp was forced to patch the vulnerability and also filed a lawsuit against the NSO Group in California.
Nath said that it is imperative to fight this issue now as inertia would provide a license to future governments to carry out surveillance in an unabated manner.
More reading on Pegasus
- A Guide To The NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware In India
- Members Of Parliament React To Pegasus Spyware Controversy Amidst Monsoon Session
- ‘Illegal And Deplorable’: How Pegasus Spyware Targets In India Are Reacting
- Amazon Web Services shuts down infrastructure linked to Pegasus vendor NSO Group
- A decade-old Bill had proposed to regulate surveillance by govt agencies; this is what it said
- Pegasus spyware: How do we rein in State surveillance? Here’s what experts had to say